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Local legislators support new stadium

WORTHINGTON -- Doug Magnus has become a stadium expert.

The Republican Senator from Slayton has been highly involved in stadiums for both the Minnesota Twins and a football stadium for the University of Minnesota.

So when the Vikings wanted a new home, they knew just where to start.

"The Vikings, when they came to me before the session started, they came to me in 2010 and said the Twins said, 'If you want a stadium built, you better go see Sen. Magnus,'" Magnus related on his drive home from St. Paul Friday. "That's when Zygi Wilf came to see me, and that's when Sen. (Julie) Rosen and Rep. (Morrie) Lanning and I and some others started working. It's been a lot of long nights and a lot of difficult sessions and a lot of negotiating along the way to get the best deal we could."

It was a long road for all legislators, but late Thursday, the bill passed through the Senate by a 36-30 vote, clearing one of the final hurdles for a new $975 million downtown stadium.

"I have spent months and months and months -- almost two years now -- on this, working closely with Sen. Rosen in the Senate and my good friend Morrie Lanning, the chief author in the House," Magnus said. "I was part of a working group of Senate and House members that worked hard to get this thing put through. It's great to have it behind us. We have one more step to make, and that's the city council approval of the plan. I think that will come through."

Gov. Mark Dayton is expected to sign the bill, with the Minneapolis city council the last obstacle.

"It was a long, difficult process of negotiating basically every step of the way," Magnus said. "But it's something we needed to get done. I have said all along that my three key reasons for getting involved with this was I felt the Minnesota Vikings are an asset to the state. In the words of Commissioner Goodell from the NFL and in meetings we had with the governor was, the Vikings are an iconic team to the league, they are one of the most important teams in the National Football League."

The Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, which was constructed in the early 1980s, is outdated.

"The Metrodome was not a long-term option for a housing venue for the team," Magnus said. "It served its course, it had done well, it was paid for, but it was not a long-term option. I also felt, and many others did, too, that a large indoor facility was important to the state, also. When you look at this from the start, when Zygi Wilf came to see me, they were thinking an outdoor stadium. I said absolutely not, that was not going to work. Even though an indoor stadium was going to cost approximately $20 million to operate -- so significantly higher operating costs -- I felt it was important to have an indoor facility for the state."

The Senate approved the bill Thursday afternoon, but the House had a late night.

The final bill was approved at 3:30 a.m. Thursday by a 71-60 vote. The House had a break Wednesday night and reconvened after midnight.

"Some people wisely packed, I ended up taking a nap during some of that to get ready for the debate," Rep. Joe Schomacker, R-Luverne, said. "The bill got posted. I think the Vikings' stadium bill was posted at 9:20 or 9:30. That gave us time to look through the conference committee report and see what was in there, see what the final language was that was agreed upon and kind of work through that. It did take some time for the staff to get everything processed through the way it needs to, and that's why we got started when we did."

But when the bill was presented, Schomacker, as well as Rep. Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake, both voted yes on the bill.

"Going into it. I had very strong reservations, especially on the thoughts of, 'How can we find $400 million dollars for a stadium like this when we couldn't find money for roads last year or schools or hospitals,'" Schomacker said. "I wouldn't have minded seeing a little bit of an increase in those areas. When you talk to constituents, they asked, 'Would the dollars actually go there?' It wouldn't have. One time dollars versus continuing expenditures makes a little bit of difference. The practical side of it eased my concern on that a little bit. I wanted to try to find some kind of balance in there. There were definitely two very vocal factions -- the groups that didn't think we should put any dollars into it and the groups that thought we should be funding the whole thing because the Vikings are such an asset to the state. I wanted to find some sort of middle ground that I could support in there."

When it went to the Senate, Magnus also supported the bill.

"I talked to folks and realized on a Sunday afternoon in the fall when the Minnesota Vikings are playing, 65 to 70 percent of the televisions in the state of Minnesota are turned to the Vikings," Magnus said. "My district runs from 100 to 200 miles away to 250 miles away, almost, down to Hills. They can't get to the games, they do make some, but they are definitely big-time supporters of the Vikings. That's important to them."

Schomacker also heard from his constituents as well.

"We never get to vote for perfect bills; we have to vote on what's in front of us," he said. "We got over that, and I ended up supporting the bill after that. Just looking at what my office got for response ahead of time or from constituents, there was actually about 25 to 1 supporting the stadium. That made it a little easier, too, when you knew there was more public demand out there than what I had seen in the past."

With such a popular issue involving the Vikings, more and more people became interested and involved in the political process.

"I think people did get a better sense of it," Schomacker said. "That's probably some of the silver lining; people had to pay attention to the process because that's something they were interested in. In that regard, it was very good."

Schomacker struggled initially with putting that much money toward a stadium as opposed to other needs. But the tax dollars from the Vikings helped offset those concerns.

"In 2010, just on the wages of the employees, the staff and what the opposing teams pay for income taxes when they come to the state, it reaches $21 million per year," Schomacker said. "The Vikings are an asset to us fiscally in the state and that was definitely a consideration in that, too. That 300 million is an investment.

"That money does go to fund our schools and hospitals and roads and those types of things. That is general fund dollars."

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Coordinator Aaron Hagen may be reached at 376-7323.